Spellbound: A Social History of Magic
Discover the true history of magic, witchcraft and occultism from ancient times to the present day.
At a Glance
- Live online course
- 2 hours a week
- Wednesdays 19:00 - 21:00
- 20 weeks: October to March
- Tutor: Tom Waters
- Fees from £230 to £420
- Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
- Book from 2 August
The celebrated necromancer and court magician to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee, was said to have owned a ‘black mirror’ that enabled him to see into the future, as well as a magic crystal, inhabited by a daemon, that could cure kidney disease. Of course, that was in the sixteenth century and in our society we no longer believe in such things. Except that even today many people have a superstitious terror of breaking mirrors, and shops selling supposedly healing crystals can be found in many of Britain towns and cities.
In this 20-week course we will explore the history and practise of magic, spell-craft and the occult from ancient times to the present day. We will learn about witches, fairies, shamans and fortune-tellers, as well as beliefs in curses and ghosts, protective talisman and superstitious fears associated with the occult. Each week we will examine a key theme in the history of magic, assess its place in different cultures around the world, and consider how the theme has changed over time. We will also look at the place of magic and the occult in art, literature and popular culture, from the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers, to the wizardry of Harry Potter.
Using the methods of historical study, folklore, anthropology and psychology, we will discover why magic has haunted the human imagination so persistently, and how it continues to resonate even today.
As part of the course, you will be encouraged to draw on your own experiences in relating to the material taught in the course, through discussions and open questions, such as areas where we might be superstitious, have talismanic objects we turn to, or even have more definite beliefs or disbeliefs in supposed praeternatural forces.
No previous knowledge of the subject is necessary, and the course is organised to encourage discussion and debate in an informal setting.
Online Access to Course
This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.
Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.
Programme listed is indicative only and may be subject to modification
1. Religion’s weird sister: defining magic
2. Voodoo dolls and cursing slates: effigy magic since ancient times
3. Stone circles and healing wells: magic and the landscape
4. Celtic folklore: fairies and curses
5. A ‘witch craze’? Witchcraft in Europe, c. 1400-1750
6. Obeah and Voodoo in the Caribbean
7. The cunning-craft
8. Shamans and shape-shifters
9. Grimoires: the history of magic books
*** Christmas break ***
10. Mesmerism, spiritualism, and the Victorian occult revival
11. Devils and demons: jinn, exorcism and deliverance
12. Alas poor ghost: restless spirits and second lives
13. Cursed Britain: evil magic after the witch trials
14. Making a fortune: fortune-telling and tarot cards
15. Military magic: the supernatural during war and conflict
16. Curse of a continent? Witchcraft in modern Africa
17. From Brothers Grimm to Harry Potter: the power of the magical imagination
18. Traditional Chinese folk magic
19. New witchcrafts for a New Age? Baphomet and Satanism, wicca and hedge witchcraft
20. A global magical revival? Occultism today
There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text, but if you would like to read more on the subject we suggest:
- Ronald Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present (Yale University Press, 2017)
- Owen Davies, Magic: a Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012)
- Thomas Waters, Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times (Yale University Press, 2019)
Spellbound is taught by Dr Thomas Waters. Tom is an expert on the history of magic who has taught at the universities of Oxford, Leeds, Derby and Hertfordshire, as well as here at Imperial College.
Tom has published numerous articles on the modern history of witchcraft, and his new book, Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times, will be published by Yale University Press in August 2019.
Visit Dr Waters' webpage.
Course Delivery: Live Online Taught Courses
All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.
All times stated are British Standard Time.
To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.
This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.
Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.
We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.
Talks and any participants' questions will be recorded. If you do not want your image or sound to be recorded please ensure the camera and microphone on the device you are using to access the course is switched off.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
|Hours||Weeks||Standard Rate||Internal Rate||Associate Rate|
|40||20|| £420 (Early Bird Rate: £380*)
||£250 (Early Bird Rate: £230*)||£330 (Early Bird Rate: £300*)|
|* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October only | All fee rates quoted are for the whole 2-term course.|
Rate Categories and Discounts
- Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
- Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
- Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
- Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact firstname.lastname@example.org before completing the online enrolment form
- Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
- Austrian Cultural Forum staff
- City & Guilds College Association members
- Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
- Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
- Harrods staff
- Historic Royal Palaces staff
- Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
- Members of the Friends of Imperial College
- Members of the Kennel Club
- Members of the London Zoological Society
- Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
- Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
- Natural History Museum staff
- National Health Service (NHS) employees
- Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
- Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
- Royal Geographical Society staff
- Science Museum staff
- Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
- Students (non-Imperial College)
- Teachers and other staff of UK schools
- Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
- Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
- Victoria and Albert Museum staff
It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Applicable terms & conditions
Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.
|Hours||Weeks||Autumn term||Spring term||Summer term||Summer School|
|40||20||18 Oct - 18 Dec 2021 (9 weeks)* PLUS||10 Jan - 26 Mar 2022 (11 weeks)||n/a||n/a|
|* Followed by the Christmas break|
Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021
Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:
- Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
- First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
- The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
- The following email notifications are sent:
|What is sent||When is it sent||What does it contain|
|1. Payment confirmation||Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application||
|2. Enrolment confirmation||Is sent within 10 working days. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received||
|3. Programme information||Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts||
|If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756
Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the course tutor, Thomas Waters, email@example.com
If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.